Editing Fiction Anthologies (Part 1)

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Although I am posting this entry to my blog, my wife, Ann VanderMeer, contributed significantly to the content and wording. See also the previous posts Anthologies: Comments, Anthologies from a Reader’s POV, and Anthologies from a Writer’s POV. – JeffV

Editing original anthologies in the twenty-first century has become much more than a process by which you skillfully put 10 to 25 stories between two slabs of pulped wood and glue it all together. I think you can chart the beginning of the changes from the 1970s, a time when, if you look at many of the anthologies being published, they didn’t so much pitch readers on the names of authors as on themes or a series or editor’s brand. But at some point, this wonderfully ego-less approach went away, and over time the creation of an anthology, especially at the commercial publisher level, became more name-driven, and thus a little more like a Hollywood pitch.

That said, acquiring a core of well-known/best-selling writers for your anthology project most definitely isn’t “selling out”—those authors are in that position because they’re professionals who have produced great fiction for either a general or strong niche audience for a number of years. They are known for bringing a particular style or approach, and a certain level of quality, to whatever they do. Invites to these writers should be based on genuine affection for and appreciation of their work, along with knowing they’re right for a particular project.

However, this part of the process also shouldn’t devolve into a reflexive seeking out of the same core group for each anthology. There is an impulse—quite normal and understandable—on the part of agents and editors to want the same handful of names as the Holy Grail for an anthology. In actual fact, though, those particular writers only contribute to a tiny percentage of anthologies each year—and Fantasy & Science Fiction is actually wide and deep enough for other names to have impact as well. (it’s worth noting that Indie press anthologies are not immune from needing established writers, either—sometimes it is even more important given the vagaries of distribution and getting the word out.)

Within this paradigm, there should still be plenty of room for inviting less commercial writers and newer writers to participate in your anthology. Indeed, we would argue that as an editor you have a responsibility to the health not only of your anthology but of the SF/Fantasy community (or whatever genre you’re working in) to encourage submissions from newer writers. It is becoming increasingly clear, too, that, a narrowness in reading tastes can be an active liability, given an increasingly omnivorous readership.

The advantage of experience does often result in greater consistency from an established writer. However, it is not true that established writers will automatically produce better work. One of the unfortunate byproducts of the otherwise often wonderful S/F subculture (or any subculture, really) is a fixation on personalities and types that sometimes obscures the actual work and supports an unspoken assumption that X, Y, and Z are “hot” and therefore more talented than A, B, and C. An editor’s ability to at times ignore the shiny-shiny and the hype that lubricates the genre community is essential to producing quality anthologies.

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Negarestani and Pridham Go to the Movies: Deep Red by Argento

One thing I like about facebook is I have really smart friends who can take a sometimes superficial status message post by moi and turn it into a fascinating discussion. In such cases, you sometimes want to preserve it in a more formal context, like a blog.

Case in point, I posted this status recently about Argento’s movie Deep Red: “The mansion scenes were very cool. Mise en scene very good. Climax not so hot. Lots of slow, weird scenes. Didn’t understand the odd intermittent dubbing/subtitles/subtitles while actors dubbed Italian while speaking English. Several continuity errors too.”

Reza Negarestani and Matthew Pridham then engaged in the short conversation reproduced below, and which I found fairly fascinating. I love the implication of a movie being haunted, perhaps intentionally, perhaps not.

Negarestani is the author of Cyclonopedia, one of my favorite weird texts of the past few years. Matthew Pridham wrote the great “Renovations,” a Weird story from the point of view of a haunted house. (That story is available online here, and I highly recommend it—unfairly overlooked.)

This discussion contains spoilers.

Reza Negarestani: What I like about Argento’s movies (aside from the glamorous 70s decor) is that, as you suggest, they are full of these weird dissonant scenes and plot holes from which I always get the impression that there should be at least one more plot brooding in the dark, that a story far more terrifying and convoluted than the actual story is behind the colorful superficial facade of his movies, something that seeps in and out on its own. And that the seamless surface is only there to dam the twists of this brooding plot which we never encounter in full.

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Eric Basso’s in the House

Over the next two or three months, I’ll be reading most of these books by surrealist/gothic/weirdlit writer Eric Basso. Joining me in posting reviews will be Larry Nolen, Paul Charles Smith, and Matthew Pridham. If you want to read along, order some of them (we’re especially focusing on the fiction, nonfiction, and plays), post about them, and I’ll crosslink on the Amazon book blog.

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Thursday Linky Links and News: Duchamp, Mamatas, Nabokov, Narayan, and More

I’ve been remiss in not signal-boosting some of my own Omni posts and linkage to stuff by others in the last couple of weeks. So here’re some links.

First off, Shweta Narayan’s novelette “Eyes of Carven Emerald” is a free read on SF Signal, in case you hadn’t noticed.

On Omnivoracious, I’ve been posting about e-books and also Nabby and also the PKD Award…

Nabokov and His Butterflies

Asimov’s E-Book Anthology

Infinity Plus starts producing e-books

Your momma starts producing e-books

Jason Sanford takes over the world

Dalkey Archive’s top 10 list of cool stuff they didn’t publish

Editors get to tell why they bought the books on the PKD list

I’ve also just blurbed two books:

Nick Mamatas’ Starve Better: “Mamatas offers up a no-nonsense guide that should be required reading for all writers. Prepare to have some illusions shattered… because you need them shattered. A great resource from a guy with the experience to back up the advice.”

L. Timmel Duchamp’s collection Never at Home: “A new collection from L. Timmel Duchamp is cause for celebration. Duchamp’s short fiction is compassionate, sharp-eyed, intelligent, and often ingeniously structured. These stories take us places we haven’t been before. Never at Home once again showcases a unique, essential voice.” (no order page yet)

I’m working slowly on a two-part blog entry about editing anthologies, along with a post for Booklife refuting the claim that book tours are pointless in this day and age.

In other news, the Lambshead Cabinet antho table of contents should be posted in the next couple of weeks, and the table of contents for The Weird will be posted in the next six weeks.

Set-up work on Leviathan 5 continues apace, including gathering together the necessary foreign language editors. It’s a very incomplete list so far, but Jukka Halme, Gio Clairval, Luis Rodrigues, Larry Nolen, Karin Tidbeck, and Edward Gauvin have already joined our merry band.

Finally, we’re working very slowly on a new bestiary antho to be illustrated by Ivica Stevanovic. We have manuscripts in hand from, among others, Dexter Palmer, Rhys Hughes, Michal Ajvaz, Reza Negarestani, Karen Lord, Cat Rambo, Stephen Graham Jones, Vandana Singh, and Brian Conn.

Shriek: An Afterword Now Available on Kindle

If you look at the Amazon.com reader reviews for my novel Shriek: An Afterword, it’s either the best thing since sliced bread or a plotless pile of crap. Now e-book afficionadoes can decide for themselves, as Tor has finally made it available for the Kindle.

When Shriek came out in 2006, it received a starred PW review, made many year’s best lists, including Amazon and the San Franciso Chronicle, and has been reprinted in the UK, Poland, Russia, and Germany. But it deeply divided my readers, again between those who were enthralled by it and, basically, those for whom the humor of the book didn’t connect and who were unwilling to accept a narrator perceived to be as deeply flawed as Janice Shriek. Although the book got some really good responses, hardly anyone grappled with the central themes and concerns of the novel (although this did a good job). I still hope someone will someday give the book a good critical analysis.

Here’s the official website for the novel, including a link to the infamous Shriek short film, which turned out a lot more, erm, experimental than I’d hoped. It did, however, result in a somewhat ground-breaking series of movie/book parties, most of them organized by readers, to whom I’m forever grateful. I’m also really grateful to the Church, who did an awesome soundtrack for the book and did voice-over for the film.

Here’s the link to order the limited edition, including soundtrack.

Steampunk in Poland (and more trip details)

Per this site, that’s the cover of the Polish edition of the Steampunk anthology.

Some details about my trip to Poland have been finalized. I’ll be there April 2 through 4, and Scottish writer Neil Williamson will be joining me. Thanks to Konrad Walewski for being the principle mover-and-shaker behind getting me to Poland. Details of specific events will follow.

After Poland and a stop in Amsterdam to visit family, Ann and I will be traveling to Finland for a weeklong VanderCon, events to be announced.

Reza Negarestani and the Dark Materialism Symposium

Update: And an interesting, related, blog.

Here’s the link to the content from a recent symposium, said event described below. If you’ve been reading this blog, then you know that I believe Negarestani is a stone-cold genius and the future of weird fiction, in addition to the thought-provoking nonfiction he writes. His story in the Lambshead Cabinet anthology is just quite simply a thing of beauty on so many levels. It’s mind-blowing.

(As a side note it is a little discouraging to see the recent horror best-of table of contents appear to be largely a time machine to fifteen years ago. No diss of the fine writers included, but it doesn’t at all reflect the energy of the last five years in weird fiction. This on the heels of two very conservative bests of the last two decades…I’m thinking perhaps a “best of the weird” yearly antho might be needed.)

This symposium draws on recent paradigms in contemporary philosophy, physics and critical theory. It assembles unique and multidisciplinary reflections on the idea of darkness in its relation to matter in diverse locations, namely: physics, astronomy, ecology, mysticism, speculative realism, psychoanalysis and literature. As a conceptual framework, dark materialism engages with matter at the thresholds of its annihilation and disappearance beyond the topographies of ‘base materialism’ and at the very edges of forms of thought where the objects, things, Things and no-things on which it depended exert their independence.

Weird Tales: Submission Portal, Pay Raise, and More!

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My wife Ann, the editor at Weird Tales, forwarded me this press release about some pretty cool new developments at the magazine. What this also means is that Ann will be blogging on the new Weird Tales site, as time allows (I think she’s going to talk about the editorial assistants next), along with Paul Guran and Mary Robinette Kowal! Go to the new website and check it out. – JeffV

Several exciting developments mark the start of 2011 for Weird Tales. In addition to launching a new website , editor-in-chief Ann VanderMeer and publisher John Betancourt have raised the pay rate to 5 cents per word and implemented a new submissions portal for potential contributors.

These changes come on the heels of the news last year that VanderMeer would be taking over as editor-in-chief, with Paula Guran retained as nonfiction editor and Mary Robinette Kowal named as art director. This is the first time in the magazine’s 88-year history that Weird Tales has had an all-female editorial/management staff. Dominik Parisien and Alan Swirsky join Tessa Kum as editorial assistants on the Weird Tales team.

“Weird Tales was always known for publishing unclassifiable dark fiction, for publishing new voices alongside old pros, and we’ll continue that tradition,” VanderMeer says. “Our website updates those traditions by posting video flash fictions and news of the bizarre.” The new site also features a blog, through which VanderMeer and the rest of the Weird Tales team will discuss fiction and topics related to the revamped magazine.

This month marks the publication of the 357 issue of the magazine, featuring exceptionally strong short fiction. Contributors include Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ N.K. Jemisin with “The Trojan Girl”, Swedish newcomer Karin Tidbeck’s ingenious and unsettling inversion of faerie and critically acclaimed J. Robert Lennon with “Portal,” a disturbing Shirley-Jackson-esque horror story. Weird Tales will return to its normal quarterly schedule this year, with future issues slated for May, August, and November.

Thanks to Matt Kressel for the new website and Neil Clarke for the submissions portal.

The Third Bear: The Lives of Short Stories


(Click here for music feature, free downloads, and other linkage.)

Novels have secret lives and extended lives, periods of initial interpretation and re-interpretation that accrete around the actual writing, initial publication, surges in interest or of dis-interest, and new editions. Novels become like scarred and barnacle-encrusted ships. Eventually they’re refurbished, perhaps even given a re-enforced hull, or they chug along in a state of ever-more apparent neglect. Sometimes, too, they’re left in dry dock, scuttled, run aground by false lighthouses, or pulled apart for salvage.

Short stories (and novellas) endure a different fate, one more akin to the process by which sea turtles reproduce. Hundreds of eggs are laid and eventually hundreds of baby turtles hatch and frantically make for the sea, many of them getting picked off by birds or crabs. Once they reach the sea, even more get eaten by fish and other predators. Some run afoul of fishermen’s nets after they reach maturity. Short stories, by dint of their initial appearance in magazines or anthologies, are more like sea turtles than ships. Some never make it out of the shell. Those that do frantically seek publication, but only a few make it that far. Of the ones that do, most are destined to be ignored and never heard from again. Only a handful make it all the way to some kind of prominence or recognition.

That may be stretching a metaphor to the breaking point, although I like the image of stories like baby turtles flopping down the beach to the sea. But it is true there is a process of attrition on the route to publication, and even afterwards.

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The Third Bear–Music Notes and Free Downloads

Largehearted Boy has posted a music feature about my 2010 collection The Third Bear:

At base, it’s a collection that’s about the search for something beyond what we know—a search either forced upon the protagonist or eagerly sought out by that person. It’s also an acknowledgment that certain things will always be beyond our ken. The stories, in terms of music, seem to me to be coiled and constantly turning in on themselves, with the counterpoint of moments that burst free from that maze. I don’t know if that makes any sense, because I’m trying to convey a feeling in my brain that probably can’t be put into words.

The feature includes an exclusive free PDF of the only original story in the collection, “The Quickening” (2010). This is also the only original story I had published in 2010*, in terms of awards consideration.

What’s “The Quickening” about? A rabbit that may not be a rabbit and some seriously effed up people. (I expect letters.)

The Third Bear has been one of the best-reviewed collections of 2010, with starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, among others. It was blurbed by Junot Diaz and Mike Mignola. It’s also made several year’s best lists. Here are the links to today’s feature plus some other relevant material:

Music feature

“The Quickening” PDF link

GeekDad link to the e-bear free PDF book of appreciations of stories from the collection:

All royalties received from The Third Bear will go to supporting the translation component of the Leviathan 5 anthology project. As ever, of course, a donation is your most direct option.

* Besides “A Secret History of Steampunk” in Steampunk Reloaded, which is part frame, part meta, and meant to highlight the work of others.

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